Asian cuisine may be too much of a good thing for some of the region’s central banks as policy makers grapple with the challenge of responding to spikes in the cost of staples from rice and pork to onions and chilies.
Pork prices jumped 57 percent in June in China, leading Premier Wen Jiabao to vow to curb inflation even as growth slows. India had to buy onions from arch-rival Pakistan this year for curries and Indonesia told spice lovers to grow their own chili as shortages stoked prices. A wider variety of diet and greater purchasing power for non-food items leave wealthier nations less vulnerable to food-cost spikes.
Food makes up more than 30 percent of inflation indexes on average in Asia, compared with about 15 percent in Europe and less than 10 percent in the U.S., according to Rabobank Groep NV. The sensitivity of their economies to swings in meat and vegetable costs means emerging-market policy makers need to raise interest rates more to stem inflation when global agriculture prices soar.
“People can’t change their diets overnight,” said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB Research Pte in Singapore who has analyzed Asian economies for more than two decades. “All monetary policy can do is to try to contain what is perhaps a supply disruption issue from broadening to the wider economy.”
Rice, the staple food for about half of the global population, has surged 70 percent in the past year according to futures traded on the Chicago Board of Trade. The export price of rice from Thailand, the world’s biggest exporter of the grain, has jumped 23 percent.
World food prices held near a record in June as the cost of sugar, meat and dairy increased. An index of 55 food commodities rose to 233.8 points from 231.4 points in May, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said July 7. The gauge climbed to an all-time high of 237.7 in February.
A fivefold jump in Indonesian chili prices last year made the spice costlier than beef, the Jakarta Globe reported in January. Indonesian’s Agriculture Minister Suswono said at the beginning of 2011 that the government will distribute chili seeds to 100,000 households, the paper said. Bank Indonesia, while trailing counterparts from Thailand to Malaysia this year, raised rates in February.
In India, where the price of onions has at times become an election issue, the central bank has raised rates 10 times since the start of 2010. The world’s second-biggest onion grower said in December it would buy the vegetable from abroad and banned exports after excess rainfall damaged crops and stoked prices.
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